The History of Coin Presses

Note: This article appeared as a contribution to E-Sylum (October 3, 2004: Volume 7, Number 40, Article 3)
by Dick Johnson, not a Willamette Coin Club member. Used by permission. The original article can be found at:

Dick Johnson writes: "We are glad Dan Gosling is back from his five-week dream vacation enumerated in last week’s E-Sylum and is now asking questions. To answer his inquiry on Taylor & Challen coin presses, he need go to only one source: Chapter 14 of Denis R. Cooper’s book "The Art and Craft of Coinmaking; A History of Minting Technology."

Dan will find there a picture of a Taylor and Challen press on page 153 and the reason they were so popular at mints around the world – they employed the knuckle-joint action to efficiently strike coins and could do this at a rapid rate (at the same time inserting the blank and ejecting the struck piece). All coining presses today that are not hydraulic employ this knuckle-joint action.

Perhaps a capsule history of the coining press would be useful for Dan (and perhaps all E-Sylum readers!). The first diestruck coins were made by hammer and anvil – no press. Similar hammered techniques continued for more than a thousand years.

Leonardo da Vinci drew a press for striking coins, medals and seals in his notebooks in 1500. Da Vinci recognized you need a blank to strike so he put two presses back-to-back – one to blank, one to strike the design (with the same blow!). But da Vinci’s press was never built (until 20th century – IBM had one built from da Vinci’s drawings, it is now in the Smithsonian Institution).

In 1506 an Italian, Donato Bramante (inspired by a fruit press) built a screw press but only did blanking on it. In 1550 Max Schwab of Augusburg built a workable screw press which could both blank and strike, and made other equipment (as rolling mills to roll metal strips for blanking). He tried but failed to sell this equipment to mints in Germany and Italy.

He succeeded, however, with the French who imported his equipment but met with resistance from French moneyers (who still made hammered coins). By 1641 the screw press was finally in use at the Paris Mint but the same thing happened in England, where the first screw press arrived but was prevented from striking coins. England overruled the moneyers and had a screw press in use at the Royal Mint by 1652. (America obtained its first screw press for the 1652 Pine Tree Coinage).

The screw press was in universal use (and remained so until 1892 when it was entirely replaced by hydraulic presses). It was a German mechanic, however, who revolutionized coining. Diedrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837) invented the knuckle-joint action press in 1812. He patented his invention (1817) and built a factory to sell his presses to national mints. He called his invention a "lever press" and sold 57 such presses to nine European mints by 1847.

In 1835 a Paris machinist, last name Thonnelier, also perfected a knuckle-joint press (similar to Uhlhorn’s technology). He did not build these presses, instead he sold drawings and plans to build his style presses. The U.S. Mint bought Thonnelier's plans in 1833, and their first such press was built by Merrick, Agnew and Tyler; in1840 Franklin Peale rebuilt it. In each case the mints either had to build their own or hire "constructors."

In 1858 an engineer at the U.S. Mint, David Gilbert, rebuilt their Thonnelier press for greater strength. Morgan & Orr was one of these constructors at the Philadelphia Mint. Joshua Morgan and Arthur Orr built these over three decades including a heavy duty coining press in 1874 (to accommodate a new steam engine installed at the mint).

The Paris Mint’s Thonnelier press was built by J.F. Caili et Cie, who acted as agents and built these for European mints. Thus every Thonnelier press has a different nameplate, the name of the constructor (never "Thonnelier").

Meantime in 1862, at the Second International Industrial Exposition in London, two coining press manufacturers exhibited – Uhlhorn’s sons, then in charge of the Uhlhorn factory, and Ralph Heaton, flush from acquiring all the Soho Mint equipment, purchased at auction in 1850 (who then used the name "Birmingham Mint").

As often happens at trade expos, these two press makers met and formed a consortium. Heaton got permission to build presses using Uhlhorn’s technology. Heaton built presses for the Mandalay Mint in Burma by 1865 but build 12 Uhlhorn-style presses for their own Birmingham Mint. Now Taylor and Challen were also coin press manufacturers, founded 1850 by Joseph Taylor, competitors to Ralph Heaton.

They stepped up their activity and developed an improved coining press. This is what is shown in Cooper in chapter 14. They could supply complete press room equipment (as they did for the Sydney Mint, Australia). Early in the 20th century, another German firm, Schuler, entered the manufacture of coin presses. Schuler presses are now in use around the world. They developed a new technology – instead of the dies on a vertical axis going up and down with blanks fed horizontally, one style of Schuler press uses a horizontal axis with gravity fed blanks vertically.

Schuler also developed "indexing" and a method of double striking (as for proof coinage). In anticipation of tremendous need for new coins for the decimal conversion in the British Empire technicians at the Royal Mint in 1950 build 12 Uhlhorn-style presses in their workshop, still utilizing this 140-year old technology but with modern improvements.

Today coining presses are made in Germany (by Schuler, Grabenel), in Austria (by Reinhard & Fernau), in England (by Heaton, Taylor & Challen and Horden Mason & Edwards, now a division of America’s Cincinnati Milacron), in Belgium (by Raskin), and in Sweden (by Arboga). Both national mints and private mints buy these presses as coining technology expands universally."

[Many thanks to Dick for his detailed submission. Every numismatist should become familiar with the basic history of coin presses. -Editor (Wayne Homren)]

Copyright ©2004 Numismatic Bibliomania Society, and Dick Johnson. All Rights Reserved.
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Dick Johnson (who writes under the name D. Wayne Johnson) wrote his first
numismatic article in 1949 at the age of 19. His 1998 script, The Medal
, was narrated by Elizabeth Jones, former Chief Engraver of the U.S.
Mint, and made into a home video by Hollywood film producer Michael Craven.
Johnson created Coin World, the world's first numismatic news weekly in 1960
and served as its first editor. He was first Director of Research for
Medallic Art Company, a position he held for a decade and where he edited
the firm's collector newsletter, The Art Medalist and cataloged the firm's
archives. He has owned or managed two numismatic auction firms specializing
in medallic art. In his retirement he is compiling a directory of American
artists, diesinkers, engravers, medalists and sculptors of coins and medals
He has collected the terms of coin and medal technology and plans an
encyclopedia of this vital information. In the electronic internet field he
has written answers to basic inquiries (FAQs) for coin and medal artists at and for medal collectors at where he is also editor
of the Collector's Guides and Checklists section. He is a frequent
contributor to E-Sylum, a weekly internet newsletter for collectors of
numismatic literature. He is a medal consultant for Carnegie Hero Fund and
for other national medal-issuing organizations. He was recently named to the
board of directors of the Gallery Mint Museum.